Why ancient methods of treatment gave results, and sometimes quite good ones

(ORDO NEWS) — How did we live without tests before? As soon as you come to the doctor, he doesn’t look at you, immediately – blood, gastroscopy, colonoscopy, ultrasound, CT and MRI, and without this you can’t.

And it seems that before the advent of high-tech medicine, they wandered in the dark: whoever recovers, he will recover. Especially creepy, we think, was in the Middle Ages. And we know about this time from the movies: dirt, stink, all toothless, and it’s constantly raining.

And let’s see how it really was. Fortunately, we can. An Italian doctor of the 16th century – that is, a contemporary of our Ivan the Terrible – Girolamo Cardano somehow treated a tough guy from Scotland, and all the documents have been preserved: what the guy was ill with, what the doctor did, and how it ended. First we listen to the story, then we draw conclusions.

Without teeth and head

Let’s meet the doctor first. Cardano is a renaissance block man. But this block periodically rolled down the wrong way.

He was born out of wedlock. His father, a lawyer, as it should be in films about the Middle Ages, had no teeth at all. But not because of caries: they tried to poison the jurist several times.

They didn’t kill him, but they ruined the peasant’s teeth. And this was striking, because in fact the teeth of the people of that time were, to the envy of us, strong and white. No candy or soda for you, which, in fact, is the secret.

Even dad constantly fought in duels, and therefore wore a hat even in the heat. After all, he stupidly did not have part of the head.

Cardano was born without breathing (asphyxia), but they put him in a bath of warm wine and pumped him out. He grew up sickly, and since his very existence was a disgrace to his father, he was not treated.

Once he lay in semi-delusion for seven months, and when he suddenly came to his senses, his father decided not to flog him anymore – he regretted it.

By the age of 15, Cardano suddenly stops getting sick. But now he is drawn to drinking, parties, fights and bad women. What a medical luminary and did all his life. And where did he get the strength from?

Already 50 years old, noticing that his chess partner was cheating, Cardano single-handedly bludgeoned three servants, tied up the owner, took all the money and was gone.

Between orgies, medical practice and escapes from numerous enemies, he managed to make incredible discoveries in mathematics and physics, and wrote so much that not all books have been published so far.

He considered himself a genius and imagined that mathematics would glorify him. But glorified – medicine. Contemporaries considered him a monster, but admitted that such a doctor was still to be found.

English patient

One day in the autumn of 1551, Cardano’s cat, always quiet, suddenly climbed onto a shelf and tore all the books except the treatise On Fate. Cardano took the incident extremely seriously and decided that fate was preparing something for him. The next day he received a letter from Scotland.

The lengthy message contained 30 pages. From it, the Italian learned that the fabulously wealthy Archbishop John Hamilton lives in Scotland, in his own castle, and everything is fine with him, but now he is sick.

“The lord has difficulty breathing, recurring in the form of seizures, at first rarely, but now that the master has passed forty, the seizures have become constant.

Seizures torment him so much that he seems almost dying, and so for a whole day, then suddenly heals by itself, ”the attending physician of Lord Kazanato stated.

Having painted both ailments and the innumerable generosity of the owner, Kazanato admitted that all means of healing had been exhausted, and one hope for Cardano. We understand how far. Let’s meet at least in Paris. Our gratitude will have no limits.

Cardano was not distinguished by greed, but he was terribly cold, and at the thought of the north, he shuddered beforehand. However, the cat! Must go. I’ll take a look at Paris.

Hot brain

Everything is very bad. Paris is a terrible hole with crooked, smelly streets, and Hamilton threw it away and didn’t come. I don’t have time, he says, you’ll get to Scotland. With a letter – a purse, it contains 200 gold. For pocket expenses. So much Cardano did not earn in a year.

The King of France calls for a reception. Nicely. The king says stay! My doctors are blockheads. I’ll get rich. Cardano abruptly refuses. To while away the days in this miserable city, but not for any money.

And here are the “dunks”. All the doctors in Paris have already visited the Scot. They are talking about the patient. Overall verdict: hopeless. Cardano listens very carefully. Someone is wondering: what is your opinion?

– Until I saw the patient – I can not say anything.

And here it is in place. Lock. Garden. Silence. Secretaries, servants, security. Dr. Kazanato fusses. The master seems to have lost hope, but he is ready to fulfill any instructions.

For forty days Cardano doesn’t say a word, he just watches. Like a shadow, on the heels.

He sees: the archbishop is a workaholic. I just got up and went to my desk. He sits hunched over and eats all the time. Writes and eats. Listens to reports and eats. All day in the chair. Starts with half a turn. Shouts, blood to the face.

Servants walk on the ceiling. Late in the evening he sits down to have dinner “for real”. After midnight falls off the dishes, immediately sleep. And never wash. This, however, did not surprise: in England and France then they did not wash.

Having seen enough, Cardano finally asks Kazanato: well, tell me, how do you treat him? Basically, he says, expectorants. Indeed, my lord has fluid in the brain that accumulates, it clogs the lungs; so it clears his throat – and it’s easier.

No, says Cardano. If he has fluid in his brain, how does he think? I see that he can barely move his legs, but his head is in place, his mind is clear. Although I agree – the reason is in the brain.

– His brain is too hot. Do you see how he yells at the servants? To cool down, the brain absorbs moisture – from the stomach, lungs, bones. Dries out the body. There is no fluid balance. Well, the diagnosis is clear, we will treat!

Stop, the reader will say, but are they definitely doctors? One has a brain cough. The other brain dries the body. Yes, doctors, and the best.

Milk in my nose

The course of treatment prescribed to the archbishop has been preserved in all details. And here it is:

– diet: chicken broth, porridge-baby, and that’s it;

– smear the head with a mixture of resin, mustard, tar and honey;

– mix goat’s milk with a decoction of cucumber and draw in through the nostrils;

– take a donkey, feed her roses, and drink all her milk;

– do not sit at the table, work – take a walk;

– sleep at least 10 hours, do not go to bed immediately after dinner;

– wash yourself daily, and here’s how: first, only your head with hot water, then pour a tub of ice water over yourself, and then lie in a warm bath for two hours.

The patient set to work with zeal. Result? Full recovery in a week. Hamilton lived a long, colorful life, begging for Cardano to move in with him. No, it’s better for you to join us. The fee was so great that the doctor was afraid to return with such a sum. The archbishop provided security.

Serious, clear, bleeding

Doctors appeared in Babylon, in the shaggy millennium BC. And immediately – with complex recipes, up to a hundred components. Where the recipes came from is not clear. We don’t understand many today – they were encrypted.

Babylon has sunk, the Greeks are starting from scratch. No practice yet. The law commands: if it’s bad, go to the square, and every passer-by is obliged to ask what you are ill with; if he himself was ill like that – let him tell you what helped.

Dreams also help. You can stay overnight at the temple. God will come in a dream and suggest a remedy.

By the way, Cardano also practiced dreams. He writes: they called to the boy, he wanted to prescribe some medicine. In the dream, a voice said: don’t. I obeyed. Intuition?

Clinical practice evolved into experience. In the 5th century BC, Hippocrates begins to write his famous books, and this is a breakthrough. Surgery techniques. Diets. Mode. Symptoms of thousands of diseases.

Requirements for the doctor: neat, collected, attentive; he appreciates his work, but is not a grabber. At the same time, the ideas about the human body are wild: rays of vision come out of our eyes, and this is how we see; we think with the heart, but the brain has nothing to do with it; all diseases are from bad fluids.

Only a few centuries later, the Roman Galen proves that the “soul” is in the brain. Blood moves through the arteries, not pneuma. He dissects pigs – humans are forbidden.

The era of drugs begins with him: Galen introduces the concept of “active substance”; its remedies are plants, minerals, and much that we would not take into our mouths. Sports, diet, hygiene, fresh air, healthy sleep, sun, sea. In a word, mode.

Reasonable? Yes, but right there, according to our concepts, amazing ignorance.

“Suppose someone feels hot, moves reluctantly, and feels heaviness in the body. He has grown stout, his veins are enlarged.

Everyone will understand that the patient has an excess of too warm blood. What is the treatment? Obviously desolation. We will not be mistaken if we cut the veins and let out as much blood as necessary.


After Galen – decline. Experience is accumulating, but there is no progress in medical science. A contemporary of Cardano, Vesalius, complains: there are not enough doctors.

To become a doctor, you have to study for a long time, then run around as an orderly, and then, maybe, they will give you a license. This scares young people away from the profession.

Medicines are made by pharmacists, hairdressers operate, watchmen and whoever needs to watch the sick. Vesalius, like Cardano, became “real doctors.” There are few of them.

Let’s think: if famous doctors were invited to distant lands, if there were crowds at their doors, if they were paid, then they helped. But how, if you don’t need gastroscopy, or even a urine test, and knowledge about the body is reduced to “fluids”?

Vesalius had just begun to dissect, fighting off accusations of magic. About the work of the organs of representation are rudimentary.

The answer, of course, is.

Return to patient

Cardano learned a lot about the English patient while still reading the letter. More – in Paris, listening to the stories of other doctors. And yet for another forty days he followed every step of the archbishop.

So, observation. Still – clinical experience, practice. All this replaced the analyzes and knowledge of modern anatomy.

When you read that Hamilton was “choking”, you probably thought asthma. But Cardano realized that the reason was “nerves”. But he did not know the word “nerves”. But – there was no term, but the Greeks wrote about “characters”. How “character” spoils health. And how to treat.

Contrast shower – who will object in the 21st century? Light food? Walks? The alternation of sedentary work and warm-up – yes, every second medical article is about this.

Nasal lavage? Powerful method. That’s just a donkey eating roses… Although who can guarantee that such milk does not contain something special, acting, so to speak, a substance?

“Hot brain” – is it naivety, or is it the same as ours, but in other words? Will not our modern terms and knowledge be laughed at in 500 years?

And what is the use of a term, a “correct” learned word, if experience and effort are not attached to it? In the old cartoon there was a phrase “TV has replaced nature for me.”

But hasn’t the TV replaced the ultrasound machine – a look at the patient? Didn’t you have it like this: go out from the doctor, read the history, “pulse 75, temperature 36.6.”

– Oh, but he didn’t take my pulse, and he didn’t measure my temperature.

It is probably not necessary to peer at the patient for forty days. But at least – take your eyes off the medical history. Ask how he eats, how he sleeps, whether he walks. This is not back in the Middle Ages. This is forward to the patient.


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